02/02/2015, 00.00
RUSSIA - UKRAINE
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As the anniversary of the referendum approaches, pressure on Crimean Tatars increases

by Nina Achmatova
The deputy chairman of the Tatar community's assembly is arrested and his house is searched. He is accused of have organised mass disorder in connection with clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian groups in February 2014. The authorities also raid the headquarters of a Tatar TV station in Simferopol.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - A little over a month before the first anniversary of the referendum that led to Russia's annexation of the Crimea, the new local authorities are putting ever-greater pressure on the Tatar community living in the Black Sea Peninsula, which has always opposed separation from the Ukraine.

Last Thursday, the authorities took into custody Ahtem Ciygoz's, deputy chairman of the Mejlis (the representative assembly of the Crimean Tatars) whose headquarters in Simferopol were cleared last year after an investigation for "extremism."

The day after the arrest, Russian investigators searched Ciygoz's house on suspicion that he organised mass disorder in front of the Crimean parliament on 26 February 2014 when Crimean Tatars and other pro-Ukrainian activists clashed with pro-Russian demonstrators.

Krym.Realii, which is part of the Radio Free Europe network, reported that agents from Investigative Committee and the Russian secret service (FSB) raided Ciygoz's flat on Friday morning.

A few days earlier, on 26 January, a surprise search at the offices of ATR, the only Tatar TV station on the Peninsula, led to the confiscation of video and materials related to 26 February the protests.

The arrest of Mejlis deputy chairman and police raids against ATR are the latest episodes in what looks like a crackdown against Crimean Tatars, a predominantly Muslim community that represents 12 per cent of the Crimean population.

Members of Tatar assembly believe a wave of repression is being prepared and demand the international community to pay attention.

Immediately after Crimea's annexation, the Kremlin and Crimean leader Aksenov promised that they would respect the rights of the Tatar minority, which as a result of Stalin's wrath was deported en masse to Uzbekistan in 1944 for alleged collaboration with the Nazi invaders. Only at the end of the 1980s were Tatars allowed to return to their homeland.

Since the start of the Ukrainian crisis and until the March referendum, Tatars sided with Kiev against the peninsula's "reunification" to Russia, an act sanctioned by a controversial referendum that was never recognised by the Ukraine or the international community.

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